‘Lineage’, a survey exhibition of works by David Fairbairn, is an intensive collection which highlights the dedicated practice and understanding that Fairbairn brings to the discipline of the portrait. This is the final instalment of a touring show and the last chance for viewers to catch this popular exhibition.
Born in Africa to English parents, Fairbairn was educated in the UK and studied art in London. Eventually making his way to Australia, the new country offered him the freedom that helped transform his art from earlier European strictures. Fairbairn brings a considered dissection and understanding to the practice of documenting the lives and forms of those around him. Particular references to Giacometti, Leon Kossoff, Lucien Freud and the London School are obvious. However, a deeper, primal quality is inherent in his work that hints toward an influence from the native African masks of his homeland, and has led to the unique, layered, successively interrogated surfaces of his human faces and figures.
The raw elemental impulses and layered passages in his work filter psychological states and the corporeal weight of the human form in a vibrant and engaging manner. Often starting by scratching out the figure as an etching on a plate, he will progress ‘through’ an image with aggressive mark making in mixed media, then introduce ranges of local and primary colour that give depth and subtlety to his heavily textured and battered works on paper. Subtraction and addition to these built-up areas and dense mark making processes are a key element in the development of Fairbairn’s work.
A finalist in this year’s Archibald Prize – sometimes considered an overhyped and distracting event on the arts calendar, with audiences often left scratching their heads about portraiture’s relevance today – Fairbairn has given the genre of portraiture his utmost respect and committed application for many years. His work highlights the possibilities and sensitive investigative appraisals of human life and its inherent value. The intensity in his work, which can be seen en masse in this show, gives a positive indication of portraiture’s relevance, what can be achieved, and what the genre still offers contemporary culture.
‘Lineage: David Fairbairn selected portraits 1998-2011′ spans the past 12 years of Fairbairn’s work and includes large-scale portraits, accompanied by medium and smaller works. This is the first time that his work has been brought together in such a way. This comprehensive body of work clearly illustrates Fairbairn’s mastery of the use of line, the power and immediacy of his mark making and his dedicated approach to producing mixed-media artwork. The exhibition reveals he is one of Australia’s leading contemporary draughtsmen.
Campbelltown Arts Centre
Until May 27
Large head C.S. No. 2, 2006, acrylic, gouache, pastel and charcoal on paper, 183 x 210cm
Red portrait Suzanne, 2008, acrylic,gauche, monotype and pastel on paper, 199.2 x 172.3cm